For Chanukah, our director, Helen Shiner, has included this woodcut print by Moissey Kogan in her Advent Calendar of Modernist Prints. She describes it as ‘A selection of prints produced by various makers using a variety of printmaking techniques, mostly secular in theme, but not always, to mark the festive period.’
To include Kogan on Sunday, 18 December, the start of the Chanukah festival, which he surely would have celebrated, seems only fitting.
Helen’s entry for Kogan’s print is reproduced here with her permission:
Dance iconography was a central element in Moissey Kogan’s sculpture and printmaking. He often depicted portrayals of performance, although, as frequently, his work suggests a more subtle motion or rhythm, such as in his woodcut, Zwei Tänzende.
In Expressionist dance circles of the 1920s and earlier, rhythmic gymnastics and Ausdruckstanz (Expressionist dance) were considered to be the epitome of the societal reformist endeavours that had enjoyed widespread currency in Europe since before the turn of the century. In common with many other artists of his day, Kogan was entranced by these new developments in dance.
Prior to the First World War, Kogan had been living in Paris, where he would have been very aware of, and may have attended, performances by the famous Ballets Russes. He would certainly have seen fellow sculptor, Antoine Bourdelle’s sculptural reliefs for the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées, which depicted the ‘barefoot dancer’ Isadora Duncan, an acquaintance of Kogan’s, dancing with Russian ballet star, Nijinsky.
After the war, Kogan settled for some time in Switzerland, where in Ascona, on the banks of Lago Maggiore, he discovered the Expressionist dance of Charlotte Bara. Ascona was the meeting point of many avant-garde artists and performers of the day, and it was there that Bara performed at the Teatro San Maderno, which her father had had built for her. Her dance was based variously on Javanese religious dance, Ancient Egyptian sources and Gothic imagery. Kogan, a Theosophist, was equally fascinated in ancient and non-European art, seeing them as sources of the most authentic cultic expression of humankind.
He said of the dancer,
‘Charlotte Bara is a true priestess and guardian of art. She is not from the world of music hall, she has come to give form to our yearnings. [. . .] she is the most holy and profound thing I have ever encountered.’
Kogan’s woodcut, which depicts Bara’s Expressionist dance, was chosen for inclusion in portfolio 4, 1922, of an art journal in portfolio form, Die Schaffenden (The Creators). Edited by German art historian and critic, Paul Westheim, and published by Gustav Kiepenheuer, Weimar, the journal, which was published four times a year, included ten signed prints by young avant-garde artists, each bearing a blind stamp with the name of the journal, presented as a portfolio.
Wishing you all a Happy Chanukah and a Happy Christmas!
Featured image: Vasily Kandinsky, Two Riders before Red, image size: 10.7 x 15.8 cm; sheet size: 28.1 x 27.7 cm, 1911, plate, folio 4, one of 56 woodcuts produced to illustrate 38 prose poems for Klänge (Sounds), published by R. Piper & Co., Munich © 2022 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris